So this is going to be a rant inspired by the article Ivy-Covered Console. I am glad that our work is getting some press, but it seems that this article is built on some frustrating biases.
First, let me say it. We all know that the only reason that this conference that the article is about is not the first videogame conference, nor is it the biggest. Yet it gets coverage in the New York Times which spends a lot of money with commercials trying to convince me to have it delivered to me even though I live in Indiana. Sure lots of people think the New York Times is hot shit, so in some ways it is great that this article exists. Of course the only reason why it exists is that this conference is taking place at an Ivy-League School. So at the heart of this article is elitism. Something I have little patience for. What do you expect from someone that has a Master’s degree in Popular Culture?
Again, I suppose I should be thankful that this isn’t yet another article that talks about how evil videogames are and features lots of unchallenged quotes from my favorite lawyer, Jack Thompson. However, much of what is written in this article just makes me sad if this is what the future of videogame studies holds.
I originally wrote a blow by blow account of why I dislike this article, however, I figured that came of as bitter for even me.
The article is basically an exercise in elitism written for an elitist paper. That is my problem with the article. In my opinion, videogames and videogame studies should not try to emulate elitist, exclusionary practices of the ivory tower. One sample passage reads, “Video-game studies is still a nascent field, too young to have a standard list of must-play games…” No, no, no. Lists are for suckers. Literature departments have spent decades realizing that their cannons were too narrow. Let us not have a cannon. A cannon by its very nature is exclusionary. So what if we all thing that Half-Life is the best thing ever and Codename: Nina is crap, but does that mean that we shouldn’t at least look at it and figure out how such crap came to be? Obviously there are only a certain number of games that one person can play, but the minute we, as academics, start making up a cannon of videogames, then we are putting up walls and limits. There is tons an tons of crap out there, but crap is worth looking at. If we have to start using a cannon to tell ourselves which games are “worthy” of out time, then we might as well go back to more traditional fields.
Then the article goes on to talk about Aristotle and Shakespeare. Now I know the writer of the article is not only trying to write an article about why videogames are worthy of study but is also trying to justify to his readers why videogame studies is worthy of having an article in the oh so prestigious New York Times. However, call me narrow minded, but there is a reason why I left my career in the English Department behind and part of that reason is so that I don’t need to talk about white guys who died before the light bulb was invented. Drawing on those names is an obvious attempt to justify our work, not only to ourselves, but the readers of the New York Times. I’ve made my opinion on this clear already. I’m taking a class right now with some wonderful people who are writing about 18th century literature. They are great intelligent people. However, you tell me, whose work is more relevant? Call me crazy, but if anyone has to justify their work, it ain’t me. As a field, I think that the attempt to legitimize our field is totally a waste of time. People who get it, already get it. People who don’t, never will. We don’t need videogames to be art. I’ve already written about that in the past. Art is exclusionary and elitist. Why would we want people like that to like us? Why would we want to be those people? Now I enjoy art, but I do not put definitions on what art is, and find definitional argumetns tiresome.
Finally, the article ends with, “But I don’t want to draw the comparison between Arc the Lad and ‘Ulysses,’ ” Dr. Palmer said, “because that would be very, very wrong.” You know what else is wrong? Being an elitist bastard. It is wrong to compare a game and work of literature? Fuck that. Now, his comment is a bit ambiguous. Why is it wrong? I would like to think that it is wrong simply because they are very different. I’ve never played Arc the Lad and have never read Ulysses (I never got around to that one when I was getting my Bachelor’s in English), so I don’t know. However, the most obvious interpretation is that Arc is not in the same ballpark as Ulysses. The only thing I can say to that to think that a videogame is a worthy comparison to a book is sad. Videogame studies is a new field and if we have such an inferiority complex that we cannot make some bold assertions with confidence, then maybe there isn’t any hope for us. I’m sure Dr. Palmer is a fine person, but that line needs some explanation.
This article is nice in that it gets the general public aware, but it represents a lot of what I hate about academia and what I am actively trying to work against. If videogame studies is going to be about consciously replicating the biases and elitism of old disciplines, it will be at the cost of the work by people on the fringes who have made it possible to study videogames in the first place. We need to stop legitimizing our work and simply start doing our work. If we do that, then the quality of the work will legitimize itself without having to buy into the elitist establishments of the academy or newspapers.